Sri Lanka is a small country (barely the size of Ireland!) that packs in a whole lot of adventure. The pearl of the Indian ocean is a haven for those wanderlusters looking to get ticks on their bucket list. The diversity and abundance of adventure in Sri Lanka can not be found anywhere else in such a small space. There are probably so many things that you didn’t know about Sri Lanka! Take a look at our list of the top 21 things to do on the island.
“A word of caution to others traveling to Sri Lanka: don’t be deceived by the size of the country – there is so much to see and do!” Jessica Paul
1) Climb 5500 steps to the summit of Adams Peak
This one isn’t for the faint hearted. The soaring summit of Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada, is one of Sri Lanka’s most striking natural landmarks and one of its most celebrated places of pilgrimage. The mountain has been an object of pilgrimage for Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus for over a thousand years, at least since the Polonnaruwan period. You will start your four hour hike at 2am in order to catch the stunning panoramic views at sunrise. Most visitors climb the mountain during the pilgrimage season, which starts on the Duruthu poya day in December or January and continues until the Vesak poya in May. Be sure to pack your torch and have your camera ready for sunrise. The views will take your breath away.
2) Take a seat on the world’s most beautiful train ride
If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, you’ve probably seen or heard stories about the ‘most beautiful train ride in the world’. So, is it? We can confirm, the journey through rolling tea estates from Kandy to Ella is pretty spectacular – you won’t be disappointed! Grab a seat by the window (or dangle your feet out of the doorway) for panoramic views over lush green farms, tea plantations and local villages. And its not just the rides through the hill country that will blow you away. Take a trip down South along the coastline for fantastic views over the Indian ocean. The train rides throughout the country encapsulate what is so wonderful about Sri Lanka – the journey is just as important as the destination.
3) Soak in the stunning scenery from Ella Rock
Climbing Ella Rock, a famous cliff located high above Ella’s village, is a beautiful 4 hour hike. You will explore the surrounding hills and enjoy the breathtaking views of Badulla’s green valleys. The rock offers stunning views across the hill country and the rolling plains below. The trek to Ella Rock is about 8km long, passing through countryside, tea plantations and railway lines. It is quite easy if you follow the track. You can do so with a local guide for a small fee, around 1,500 rupees/£8 per person, or very easily on your own. Just make sure you return from your climb before sunset, otherwise making your way back won’t be so easy!
4) Take a tour round the Uva Halpewaththa tea factory
Our favourite tea factory in Sri Lanka is the Uva Halpewaththa Tea Factory, 5km north of Ella. They run an amazing plantation tour that explains the process of making the tea from start to finish. They also explain the history and geographical significance of tea in Sri Lanka. After you’ve enriched yourself with tea knowledge, treat your taste buds by trying samples of the estate’s different teas. There’s also a small shop selling leaves and tea-related paraphernalia. We had a tour guide all to ourselves (there were two of us) and he was super friendly and informative.
Did you know? Sri Lanka is the second biggest tea exporter in the world. Take a look at 26 other things you didn’t know about Sri Lanka.
5) Take a walk across Nine Arch Bridge
Commissioned in 1921 under the British Government, the near 100 year old Nine Arch Bridge in Ella spans 91 meters at a height of 24m. It is built with blocks of stone and cement without any strengthening iron or concrete. The beautiful nine arches make it a picturesque spot, especially as it is located in a dense jungle and agricultural setting. Its a real instagram gem and shouldn’t be missed when in Ella! Behind the railway, a forest is booming and below, tea leaves are being cultivated. Be sure to check the train times in order to catch a view of the train passing by.
6) Spot elephants in Udawalawe National Park
Sri Lanka is famous for its population of Asian elephants. Go on a wildlife safari in Udawalawe National Park, located in the south of Sri Lanka, where hundreds of elephants roam free. There are a few hundred elephants within the park which makes it quite possibly the best place in Sri Lanka to see elephants throughout the year! You can sometimes witness a herd of females moving or bathing together in the wild. And you don’t need to stop here, there are 26 national parks in Sri Lanka to choose from, and so much wildlife to see. We can take you to them on our bespoke Sri Lanka tours.
Did you know? All national parks in Sri Lanka have a 2km buffer zone. Take a look at 26 other things you didn’t know about Sri Lanka.
7) Enjoy a peaceful lagoon safari in Pottuvil
Try something different and enjoy a couple of hours cruising the peaceful lagoons on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Early in the morning, life in the lagoon slowly wakes up as the fishermen and wildlife emerges for the day. A lot of birds are cruising the sky and perching on the mangroves to look for food. You will have the opportunity to see big crocodiles bathing in the morning sun, elephants foraging with their young calves and maybe even the rare monitor lizard, which are one of the biggest in the world. We saw elephants, crocodiles, kingfishers, eagles, storks and many other birds. It really is a magical experience.
8) Marvel at the centuries old Dambulla Cave Temples
The Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is a beautiful and truly unmissable UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery, with its five sanctuaries, is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The intricate paintings and statues inside are related to Gautama Buddha and his life. There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses. Buddha images were first created here over 2000 years ago, and over the centuries subsequent kings added to and embellished the cave art. The murals, especially in the magnificent cave 2, are bound to take your breath away.
9) Spot whales and dolphins in Mirissa
The best place to spot whales is in Mirissa, a small tourist town on Sri Lanka’s south coast. It is popular for surfing and famous for whale watching. The waters around Mirissa are particularly rich in plankton, which has led scientists to believe that there is actually a resident population always present in Mirissa. Whenever conditions are good and if you are visiting in the right season, there is a high chance you will spot some whales frolicking in the water. If you go during the whale watching season, which is between November to April, your chances of seeing a whale are quite high (90-95%). Get your camera ready and keep your eyes peeled.
“It was my most active holiday yet, from exploring Sigiriya’s natural beauty, the charm of Kandy, or the beaches surrounding the stunning Galle Fort – there was so much to experience.” Brent Bell
10) Snorkel with sharks on Pigeon Island
When venturing to the east coast of the island, this underwater experience can’t be missed! Just off the coast of Trincomalee is Pigeon Island National Park, one of the two marine national parks of Sri Lanka. The reef here is shallow, making snorkelling almost as satisfying as diving. It’s home to dozens of corals, hundreds of reef fish (including blacktip reef sharks) and turtles. Grab your flippers and explore this beautiful underwater world in the turquoise Indian Ocean.
Did you know? Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, is home to the world’s second largest natural harbour. Take a look at 26 other things you didn’t know about Sri Lanka.
11) Swim in the pools of Ravana Ella Falls
The Ravana Falls currently ranks as one of the widest waterfalls in the country, and is certainly a real feast for the eyes. This waterfall measures approximately 25 m (82 ft) in height and cascades from an oval-shaped concave rock outcrop. Legend has it that the legendary king Ravana (who was the king of Sri Lanka at the time) had kidnapped princess Sita, and had hidden her in the caves behind this waterfall – now simply known as the Ravana Ella Cave. There are so many wonderful waterfalls in Sri Lanka that that no one knows about. We can take you to them! Explore them with us on our bespoke Sri Lanka tours.
Did you know? Most of the electricity in Sri Lanka is produced through hydroelectric power. Take a look at 26 other things you didn’t know about Sri Lanka.
12) Take in the panoramic views from the top of Sigiriya Rock
Referred by locals as the Eighth Wonder of the World, this ancient palace and fortress complex has significant archaeological importance and attracts thousands of tourists every year. It is probably the most visited tourist destination of Sri Lanka! After walking up quite a few steps to reach the top, the view is truly astonishing and well worth the climb. The fortress complex includes remnants of a ruined palace, surrounded by an extensive network of fortifications, vast gardens, ponds, canals, alleys and fountains. Considering the uniqueness of Sigiriya, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site in 1982.
13) Soak in centuries of culture at the Polonnaruwa ruins
Some 800 years ago, when it was the thriving commercial and religious centre of Sri Lanka, Kings ruled the central plains of the country from Polonnaruwa. The archaeological treasures that can be found here give us pretty good idea of how the city looked in its heyday. Its amazing to see how advanced Sri Lanka was back then! You’ll find the archaeological park a delight to explore, with hundreds of ancient structures – tombs and temples, statues and stupas – in a compact core. It comprises, besides the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas, the monumental ruins of the fabulous garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century. Hire a bike and cycle your way round this beautiful ancient city, a recognised UNESCO world heritage site.
14) Try your hand at kitesurfing on the coast of Kalpitiya
Kalpitiya, situated nearly 130 km away from Colombo, is a fishing town based around the peninsula of Kalpitiya. It is home to the country’s largest coral reef of 307 km. It also has 14 off shore islands, saltpans, mangroves swamps, salt marshes and vast sand dune beaches. Kalpitiya is well known for the large pods of spinner dolphins that can be found just an hour boat ride from the harbour. As well as spotting dolphins, Kalpitiya is the perfect place to try your hand at some kitesurfing. Kalpitiya has a long, narrow pristine sandbar that separates the lagoon from the Indian Ocean and is one of the most consistently windy destinations in the word. In other words – its a paradise for kitesurfing!
15) Enjoy white water rafting in Kitulgala
Kitulgala is a beautiful town set amidst green hills thick with tropical vegetation. Experience white water rafting in the picturesque Kelani River in Kitulgala covering 5 major rapids and 4 minor rapids. The boulder strewn stretch of this river offers an ideal setting for white water rafting. The rapids have their own distinctive characters and are aptly named: Head Chopper, Virgin’s Breast, Butter Crunch, Killer Fall and the Rib Cage. As well as white water rafting, there are so many fun adventure activities to partake in in Kitulgala, such as – bird watching, jungle walks, river bathing, trekking to waterfalls, adventure jumps and slides in natural ponds, flat water rafting, waterfall abseiling, mountain biking – the list goes on!
16) Surf the waves in Aragum Bay
Since the early 60’s Sri Lanka attracts surfers from all over the world. Aragum Bay, a typical fishing village to the south of the small town of Pottuvil, has been a stepping-stone on the Indian Ocean trail for a long time. It is the most famous spot for surfers on the east coast and arguably in the whole of Sri Lanka. With waves fresh from Antarctica crashing up onto the beach, Arugam Bay is sometimes claimed to be one of the top ten surf points in the world, periodically playing host to international tournaments. The best time for surfing is between April and Oct/Nov and is suitable for all abilities. Totally rad dude!
17) Check out the famous temples of Kandy
Kandy, the hill city, a sleepy town with centuries of history and tradition, is a must see during your visit to Sri Lanka. Tucked away in the hills of Sri Lanka’s central province and surrounded by tropical tea plantations, Kandy is studded with temples. It is home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and many other temples of historic significance that belong to Kandyan era of Sri Lanka.
18) Relax on the pristine sands of Unawatuna Beach
Unawatuna is a lovely banana-shaped beach of golden sand and turquoise water, surrounded by green palm trees. It is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Sri Lanka and is the most famous beach in the country. It is well known for its sun, sea, sand and relaxation, as well as being perfect for a dip in the ocean or indulging in some waters sports. The town itself is small, has great shopping, guesthouses, trendy restaurants and a lot of activities and sightseeing nearby. Sri Lanka is home to so many beautiful beaches, many of which you won’t be able to find in any guide book. Let us take you to them! Explore them with us on our bespoke Sri Lanka tours.
“I am amazed at the vast array of geographic topography in Sri Lanka as well as the beauty each one possesses. It would be difficult for me to identify a favourite since all were distinct and wonderful in their own right.” Eric Johnson
19) Spot the famous stilt fisherman in Galle
You’ve probably already seen pictures of Sri Lanka’s famous stilt fishermen. This method of fishing is unique to the island and they have become Sri Lanka’s most iconic shot. The fishermen sit on a cross bar called a ‘petta’ tied to a vertical pole and driven into the sand a few meters offshore. From this high position, the fishermen casts his line, and waits until a fish comes along to be caught. The practice is a dying craft, and it often makes financial sense for the fisherman nowadays to rent their stilts for tourists to take pictures. Whether they are really fishing or not, its still an amazing sight and a real insight into the traditions of the island.
20) Take a swing in Dalawella
A swing built by the local guys at Dream Cabana has evolved into an insta-famous location in Sri Lanka, and we can see why! The location of the swing is on Dalawella Beach, which is in the south of Sri Lanka near the popular town of Unawatuna. Its the perfect spot for relaxing on the beach and taking some amazing pics. Whether you are snapping during the day or at sunset, it really is a great little spot for some fun photography. The sun sets a little to the left of the swing if you shoot side on, which is perfect for some awesome sunset beach vibes.
21) Hike and swim Diyaluma Falls
Diyulma Falls, in the Badulla region of Sri Lanka, is the second highest waterfall on the island. It is the perfect spot for a full day adventure! Throughout the hike to the top there are multiple falls and beautiful natural pools cascading towards the edge of the cliff. You can find stunning spots to take a swim, and even jump from one pool into a lower levelled pool. Pack your swimming costume and get ready for a an action packed day.